Went to my first Bruce Springsteen concert last night. It was closer to a revival service actually. As my friend Sarah put it, “we were baptized by Bruce”. The Boss strutted across the stage, laying down the gospel of love, his heart wide open. He was in love with the crowd and us with him. Three songs in it felt like a freakin’ encore. At one point he walked fifty feet out into the crowd, maybe 15 feet away from where we were dancing, on a raised stage. He then fell backward off the stage in a gesture of radical trust, into the adoring arms of his fans, who knew exactly what he was asking. He crowd surfed his way back to the main stage, doing a little horizontal preaching on the way.
What was most remarkable to me was the feeling of unity in the arena. Strangers standing side by side were dancing together, singing the lyrics, looking into each other’s eyes. Separation dissolved. Identity as personality was ecstatically transcended. This was about a shared common experience that united 17,000 people in a transpersonal ecstasy. Those who had entered the zone were in an egoless space. The joy in the place was overwhelming, and those two statements are radically connected.
True artists, like Bruce Springsteen, are animated by what Catholic priest and paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called “zest” or a “zest for life”. Zest is a primordial condition, which can be amplified through conscious awareness. For him this far exceeded a merely transient emotional, egoic, state. In his own words, it is:
• “nothing less than the energy of universal evolution, which, in the form of an innate pull toward being, wells up in what is most primitive, and therefore the least directly controllable, in each one of us;
• an energy, the feeling and development of which is to some degree our responsibility;
• and this we must do by a supremely vital operation, the most sensitive part of which is entrusted to the expert knowledge and skill of religion.”
God bless the man, for thinking that religion (Christianity) has the chops to be entrusted with the stewardship, the increase, the harnessing of the blessed evolutionary impulse that was using Springsteen as a vehicle, and through him, awakening and enlivening the crowd. His own religious order shut him down for doing so. It scares the crap out of us. After three hours of being immersed in Springsteen’s vitality, I’ll wager that everybody had the feeling that they wanted to be more just, to self-express more, to love this Earth community more, to care more…because this is what the evolutionary impulse is all about. It’s always filling us with the promise of the more that is possible. And when we consciously step into that promise, we lose ourselves in it (that is we die to our small self, and give birth to our cosmic soul).
This is what animated Jesus and if it’s not what animates the church of the 21st century, we might as we shut ‘er down. Because in the face of overwhelming cultural indifference to what we’re doing, it’s going to take an army of Bruce’s to breathe some life back in the institution. Not carefully parsed theology. Not endless knee groups “processing” our feelings. Not more Christmas bazaars. (No, there’s nothing inherently wrong about any of these). But we’re talking about resurrection here, folks.
Whatever it is we mean by being “in Christ”, it is located in the condition of zest, the sacred, creative, impulse of life itself that had 17,000 people on their feet shouting for more, from a sixty-three year old man from New Jersey who was enacting the resurrected life.